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1999 op-ed piece about Atherton P.D.

Original post made by Things don\\\'t seem to change, Atherton: other, on Jan 8, 2012

GUEST OPINION: Reserve officer defends work of Atherton Police Department

By Sherman Hall

The Atherton Police Department has trouble catching a break these days. The Palo Alto Daily News regularly examines every nuance of the department's activities. A member of the City Council insinuates that its officers shouldn't carry high quality weapons. A San Jose Mercury columnist pokes fun at the incident log.

As a long-time area resident, and as an Atherton Police Reserve Officer, it has been difficult to stand back and watch the attacks. Lost among the titillating politically motivated stories is a basic fact: the Atherton Police Department is successful at preventing crime because of its highly trained professionals, its investment in officer safety training and equipment, and its close ties with the community it serves.

Community Oriented Policing is a popular model in today's law enforcement. The Atherton Police Department has long practiced these concepts. In a discrete, wealthy residential community, it is a natural way to do business. A principal tenant of community policing is establishing contacts with community members. It calls for exploiting those relationships to find out about crime before it happens.

True, a missing dog may not always be crime-related. But, the relationship developed from such an encounter may ultimately help solve a crime. And, if handled properly, it certainly makes a resident more likely to call when they see something suspicious in the future. The Atherton Police Department is delighted to help its citizens with some of the more mundane calls. It's important to them; it's important to us. Moreover, it provides an opportunity to contact community members under more positive circumstances than issuing a traffic citation.

Stolen plants, broken gates, mis-delivered sausages, and death threats may not seem important to some readers whose communities are hemorrhaging from drive-by shootings, gang-related crime, and drug trafficking. In Atherton, we are able to devote attention to incidents that might not be of high priority in larger cities because those officers are investigating more serious felonies. I trust most communities would rather be in a position where officers have time, for example, to help a resident get back into an accidentally-locked bedroom.

It takes a lot of money to live in Atherton. The houses are among the most expensive on the Peninsula. There are two ways to get the required wealth: legally or illegally. Atherton has a few of the latter type of residents. It might surprise some to know that among the celebrities and CEO's, there are several Atherton residents with felony records, including convictions for narcotics and sex-related crimes. Our police department keeps an eye on these properties and has been able to make some important arrests by doing so. Crime in Atherton has not gone away; effective community policing has allowed the department to be successful in preventing it.

Atherton has also had it share of sensational crime, including kidnapping, invasion robbery, and murder. Of course, like any other city, we also routinely have cases of domestic violence, burglary, and assault (we have many schools in the jurisdiction). In the past months alone, two people have been arrested for concealing handguns while in Atherton. The department's leadership and its officers are highly trained professionals who can comfortably move between calls about missing diamond rings, resuscitating residents by using the defibrillators in the cars, and circumstances that call for detaining armed and dangerous persons.

One of our council members recently suggested that the department's investments in officer safety equipment have been frivolous and unnecessary. We do have video recorders in the cars. This tool has been extremely effective in controlling citizen complaints, thus avoiding lawsuits against the town. It has also assisted in prosecutions, saving the town money in overtime pay for court testimony.

Atherton Officers are occasionally called upon to back-up other neighboring agencies that have higher crime rates. We often stop vehicles in less reputable neighborhoods for violations committed in our jurisdiction. It may seem unnecessary to the councilman to have high caliber weapons, but it is an unfortunate necessity in the area we serve.

The tame and unexciting Atherton Police Department's incident logs should be the goal of a successful department, not a cause of ridicule. I am glad that local papers, including the Almanac and the Palo Alto Daily News publish them, as the residents have a right to know what we do. The reports keep them interested in the community and make them aware of crimes in their neighborhoods. They also reflect an agency that is effective in preventing crime by doing what it takes to serve its community. The work is not always glamorous, but such efforts ultimately pay off by reducing crime. That s what policing is all about.

Comments (5)

Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 8, 2012 at 9:00 am

Sure Sherman, sure. Atherton doesn't have a low crime rate because of it's police department. It has a low crime rate because of who lives there. You don't have a "bad side of town" where dirtbags live. As to the sensational crimes that have sometimes occurred in Atherton - you're right, sometimes they do. And who handles those investigations? Oh, that's right, the San Mateo County Sheriff's Department.

Atherton is a highly trained private security force. Nothing more. It has at least one corrupt officer and up until recently, a series of incompetent Chiefs. Atherton residents should be seriously considering who they make their new chief or look at out-sourcing. With a competent chief they might stand a chance of not having to pay out more money in lawsuits. If they out source, they can get officers with far more training and competence than they have now at a lower price. Of course, if a resident gets caught driving drunk the deputy isn't going to drive them home like an Atherton officer would.

Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 8, 2012 at 9:32 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

" if a resident gets caught driving drunk the deputy isn't going to drive them home like an Atherton officer would."

Not anymore, Chief Flint has stopped that practice. Drinking drivers beware.

Posted by lawsuit waiting to happen
a resident of Menlo Park: Stanford Hills
on Jan 9, 2012 at 9:19 pm

Sherman Hall says:

"We often stop vehicles in less reputable neighborhoods for violations committed in our jurisdiction."

This begs the question:

Since when was it Sherman Hall's job or the job of any other officer to detrmine whether a violation has been committed?

It is not, nor ever has been. In our system, the DA decides whether there is reason to charge an offendor and a judge or jury determine the defendant's fate.

Sergeant Hall should study his junior college criminology text. It isn't the Officer's job to render a judgement as to whether a crime has occurred, especially when, more often than not little is known about the event calling for a vehicle stop.

The officer's job is to deter crime and to respond to instances of apparent criminal conduct.

Some may consider the above quote to have been taken out of context or to constitute reading into what is arguably a harmless omission on Hall's part.

However Mr. Hall's letter appears to have been a carefully writen letter. The length of the letter and the forum that was used would seem to give us clear indication of this man's thinking.

[Portion deleted. This attack is not warranted by the comment cited. Town Square is a place to discuss issues not to attack individuals.]

Posted by Truth
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jan 9, 2012 at 9:58 pm

Sherman Hall has been at the center of most of the APD controversies, either as a principal player (in the Johns case) or defending the misdeeds of his fellow officers.

No matter what nonsense is in Hall's article, it is a PRIVILEGE for a cop to work in Atherton. An Atherton cop gets a higher salary than 70% of the rest of the peninsula, but isn't in the hazardous situation traditionally used to justify a robust police salary.

(Yes, I know in theory an Atherton cop could get hurt or killed on duty, but it's never happened, and is not plausible. In theory, you or I can get hit by a piano dropping from a 20th story building as we walk by also).

The hubris put forth by Hall is staggering.

Posted by Glad I'm Not You
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 10, 2012 at 8:44 am

It must be a slow news day when someone digs up a 13 year old article for the purpose of providing new fodder for all the Atherton PD haters out there. REALLY? Find something constructive and positive to do with your time. I'm glad I'm not part of this miserable, vocal minority that must constantly rage against someone or some institution.

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